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Re: Wolfram|Alpha Lookup Tool for Mathematica

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  • Subject: [mg100041] Re: Wolfram|Alpha Lookup Tool for Mathematica
  • From: dbreiss at
  • Date: Fri, 22 May 2009 01:46:32 -0400 (EDT)
  • References: <gv2ju2$9e7$>

On May 21, 12:05 am, Bill Rowe <readn... at> wrote:
> On 5/20/09 at 5:02 AM, mcmcc... at (mark mcclure) wrote:
> >On May 16, 5:17 am, David Reiss <dbre... at> wrote:
> >>With the release of Wolfram|Alpha I have created a small tool that
> >>allows you to send a query to Wolfram|Alpha directly from
> >>Mathematica.
> >Unfortunately, this is clearly against the terms of use:
> >
> >In particular: "The Wolfram|Alpha service may be used only by a
> >human being using a conventional web browser to manually enter
> >queries one at a time."
> >I think that Mathematica is clearly not a conventional web browser.
> >Now, I don't mean to imply that this tool should not have been
> >written or that it is Wolfram Research's intention to forbid this
> >specific use.  On the contrary, the ease of writing such a tool
> >using query strings would indicate otherwise.  Hopefully, the
> >forthcoming API will include separate terms of use that clarify this
> >matter.
> Have you used David's tool? Entry of search terms in the tool
> cause your default web browser to launch and send a query to
> Wolfram|Alpha. And the tool only allows one search at a time to
> be done. The only thing David's tool does is create a convenient
> means to start a query while using Mathematica. From the
> perspective of the Wolfram|Alpha server's the result is
> identical to a human entering a single query in a conventional
> web browser.
> Consequently, it is far from obvious this is against the terms
> of use. And since the query sent to the server is identical in
> both cases, there is no way to Wolfram to distinguish between
> the two cases.

This is an interesting point.  I do think that the Terms of service
are slightly confusing on this point.  They say  on the one hand

"be used only by a human being using a conventional web browser to
manually enter queries one at a time"

but later on allow one to use hyperlinks from a web page (or I assume,
god forbid, a microsoft word document).   So these two things seem in

My tool would appear to violate the terms of service according to the
first principle, and would be on the borderline of the second one.
(Again, though, I cleared it with the WRI legal department).

One question that I want to further clarify is how one can, in fact,
use Mathematica to send queries to W|A.  The functions behind my tool
(yes, you can reverse engineer it if you know what you are doing...
the code is not too deeply encoded) can be used more generally.  And I
am thinking of how to extend it.  For example to open several W|A web
pages at a time--perhaps you have a list of chemical compounds that
you need information of for your ongoing work.

Of course , from Mathematica, you could send a command to your browser
to open a hundred web pages at a time.  This would be very bad.  And,
in the case of W|A it would probably cause the W|A servers to block
your Internet IP address.  So, anything that one creates needs to be
built with care.

For example in my tool, it limits the length of the query to 128
characters, so that you don't accidentally paste the entire Bible into
the input-field and try to send that to W|A as a query.  This respects
the rough actual size of the W|A website's input-field.


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